Tim Burton is known for his love and dedication to stop-motion animation. With his tale of Jack Skellington being the first full length feature stop-motion film by an American studio, his name is synonymous with the medium. After penning, (but not directing) The Nightmare Before Christmas, he co-directed the feature film Corpse Bride, about a wayward groom who accidentally marries a dead girl. In 2012 Burton released his first solo directed stop-motion feature Frankenweenie, about a boy who resurrects his beloved dead dog. Despite these three great stop-motion efforts Burton began his career as an animator and sketch artist. To see an early indication of his talent and vision we go back to a hidden Burton gem locked away in the vaults of the Disney achieve.
Vincent is a six minute black and white animated short that follows the everyday adventures of seven year old Vincent Malloy. While other children dream of being astronauts or ballerinas, Vincent wants to be just like Vincent Price, (who narrates the film). He imagines himself as the many gothic characters that Price inhabited so frequently on screen. His mind filled with images of experimenting on his dog Abacrombie and dipping his aunt in wax for his wax museum. Vincent loves to read the works of Edgar Allen Poe, (which Price narrated and starred in) and imagines himself as the tortured narrator of The Raven. His mother intervenes throughout the story to remind Vincent that he is not Vincent Price but as the short progresses the boy sinks deeper into his delusion. In the shorts finale his delusions become too much for Vincent to bare and he quotes the final lines of Poe’s poem, “And my soul from out that shadow, that lies floating on the floor, shall be lifted Nevermore”.
Vincent was written originally as a poem by Burton when he worked as a Disney animator. Although Burton was happy to work for such a prestigious company, drawing cute animals and colourful landscapes was not his own style. He longed to have the freedom to create darker more edgy work. His creativity was noticed and he was given a grant to make a short film based on his ideas.
As the story was so heavily influenced by Vincent Price, he was contacted to narrate the work. He agreed and later said that it was one of the best experiences of his career. Price and Burton remained close friends until Price’s death and he would later appear in Burton’s masterpiece Edward Scissorhands as The Inventor.
The character of young Vincent is partially based on Burton himself who considered Price one of his greatest idols. Price was famed for his appearances and associations with Gothic fiction, Hammer Horror and known for his eerie and powerful voice.
The style of the work is classic Burton and contains many of his director trademarks. The short is pure Gothic, which is how Burton’s work is most commonly categorized. As with its visuals there is a clear contrast of light and dark in the works themes. Burton often reflects light and dark or the world of the living with the world of the dead. Burton’s vision will usually make the world of the dead, or the dark, appear more interesting and striking than the world of the living. This is clearly seen in Vincent with the contrast of Vincent’s dull reality and his striking delusional fantasy’s.
The medium is of course stop-motion. This is the purest form of stop-motion that Burton has used with its mixture of motion and hand drawn animation. Instead of aiming to make the movements and actions in the film as smooth as possible Burton has allowed the piece to retain its static and edgy aesthetic. This fits so well with Burton’s narrative style.
Burton as a director has always drawn inspirations from his favourite works and genres. For Vincent he drew from the German Expressionist films of his childhood. Most notably the film is in black and white. By no means dull black and white but striking monochrome. Other clear references to German cinema are the films striking contrasts, angled visuals and sharp edges. Segments of the short conjure images of Frits Lang’s Metropolis or German classic Nosferatu. The image of lone Vincent ascending a jagged, dark staircase or the shadow of Vincent’s dog Abacrombie are homages to the film movement.
In terms of narrative references from other works it is the writings of Edgar Allen Poe which have been used here. The characters and story that Vincent envisions himself in are characters from his poem The Raven. The tortured narrator sits alone reminiscing about his lost love Lenore. One night a raven enters his chamber and repeats the word “Nevermore”. This repetition slowly drives the narrator mad. Vincent Price starred in a number of Poe adaptations making him a clear inspiration and best narrator for the short.
Not only does Price’s back catalogue of work make him so suited to the project but also his most noted feature, his magnificent voice. His ability to add an eerie depth to his voice work became his trademark feature. His voice has a tone that has been utilised in tales of the dark and macabre yet he still manages to sound warn and playful. Price was the voice over for Michael Jackson’s Thriller as well as narrating and starring in Edgar Allen Poe’s work. Even The Simpsons paid homage to Price’s great voice by doing a tribute of the late great actor in two episodes.
Although Disney were happy with Burton’s inventive short it was destined to spend its days locked in the Disney vault. The short is an added feature on special editions of The Nightmare Before Christmas but is otherwise unknown outside of Burton’s loyal fan base. The film is a clear testament to the young Burton’s creativity and talent. After leaving Disney Burton moved more into live-action film making but his passion for stop-motion has never faulted despite his feature film success. With rumours that Burton is in talks to gain the rights to The Addams Family for his next animation project we still have much to gain for stop-motion from the great Tim Burton.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is out 30th September